Hollywood hills of West Cork

Neil Jordan’s in-production Byzantium is just one of many films to use the Beara Peninsula as a backdrop, says Carl Dixon

THE filming of director Neil Jordan’s Byzantium is under way on the Beara peninsula in West Cork. Jordan’s Irish take on a vampire movie, it stars Gemma Arterton and Saoirse Ronan.

As with his previous film, Ondine, he utilises the spectacular landscape close to his holiday home near Castletownbere.

For this fishing town, the arrival of a large film crew is a boost to the economy as pubs, B&Bs and restaurants benefit from a short but intense period of activity.

The Beara peninsula has carved out a lucrative niche as a movie location despite its distance from Dublin and the often inclement weather. In 1997, the mini-series Falling for a Dancer, starring Elisabeth Walsh, Liam Cunningham and Dermot Crowley, and a young Colin Farrell, was filmed here. This was followed in 2008 by Ondine, again with Farrell, and Polish actress Alicja Bachleda.

One scene in Byzantium features the Mare’s Tail Waterfall, which is reputed to be the tallest in Ireland and was dyed red for filming. The waterfall drains a lake on Hungry Hill and when in full flow can be seen from miles away as it cascades hundreds of feet over rocky cliffs to the valley.

Other locations include Allihies beach, which was created from the tailings of copper mines in the 1800s, and the dramatic sea arches.

Beara resident Colman O’Sullivan is a location manager for the film, having worked on previous productions on the peninsula.

“We started work in November scouting for locations,” he says. “We did look at the Ring of Kerry, but once we saw this waterfall we knew it was perfect. We were very aware of the environment and used a non-toxic vegetable dye, which doesn’t impact on aquatic life.

“When you see the red water streaming off the mountain against the background of black rock, it is very spectacular.”

Spectacular scenes come at a price, and the construction of a new road to the waterfall required three weeks of work and huge quantities of stone to cope with the wet.

“It is certainly manic first thing in the morning, when we need to get 70-80 people and lots of very expensive equipment to the base of the waterfall using quads and jeeps,” he says. “We are the first on site every morning and the last to leave. There can be a lot of waiting around, but it is never boring.

“There are about 20-25 local people, mostly young lads, working on the project driving quads, controlling traffic and labouring and that is great for the local economy at a time when so many people in Beara are having to emigrate.”

Adrienne MacCarthy runs MacCarthy’s Bar in Castletownbere and says the town takes this frenetic activity in its stride. “When it started, with Falling for a Dancer, it was all completely new,” she says.

“Even though it was great fun it was a bit overwhelming. Although there is still a buzz in the town with this film, we are comfortable with how it all works at this stage.

“We know a lot of the crew and actors from previous productions and everything tends to slot into place. I think Beara provides a very relaxed, hassle-free environment for everyone involved.

“There is no star treatment on offer. Colin Farrell was a little rowdy in 1997 and I had to bar him, but it was great to see him back in the bar a little more grounded when he came back for Ondine in 2008.

“The local community does appreciate the fact that Neil Jordan chooses to do some of his filming here.”

For the small village of Eyeries on the northern side of the peninsula, filming has become almost annual and iconic images of its brightly coloured houses have featured in print and media campaigns.

It began with the film The Purple Taxi in the 1970s, starring Fred Astaire and Peter Ustinov, and since then the village has featured in films and television productions including TG4’s Iníon an Fhiachlóra (The Dentist’s Daughter), Moondance television series The Royal and advertisements for Bord Fáilte, Heineken and Rover cars.

Last summer saw the filming of Japanese art house film Tamatama, by director Mayumi Komatsu.

“Some of the houses have probably been painted 10 times over by different film crews,” says Mr O’Sullivan. “We have been converted into a fishing village, returned to the 1930s and there have been a few street festivals.

“Locals have been employed to make fake bog cotton using cotton wool and flower stalks, find ruined boats, set dance, become extras as nuns, fishermen and policemen, audition their dogs, and provide donkeys and sheep with just the right colour markings.

“We have had a horse bolting up the main street, giant puppets and set dancing, and at this stage we take it all in our stride. It is a big advantage for film crews coming here that we have this level of experience; we are an adaptable community and if they are looking for something we will come up with a way of providing it.”

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